STREET SOCCER STARS MEET MANDELA
On Friday morning sixteen boys woke up with one thing on their mind. They were getting on a plane at Cape Town International and flying to Johannesburg to meet Mandela at his office in Houghton.
Mandela asked to see the boys, all former street kids who in one year have turned their lives around and formed a fine young football side called the Homestead Team. They are set to fly to England on Tuesday for a two-week football tour.
"I know Cape Town very well because I stayed there for 24 years," Mandela smiled as he welcomed the boys. "I stayed at a place called Robben Island."
"Now tell me how are you?" he asked, to which Gerald Jacobs, the boys' 25-year-old street outreach officer from the Homestead street children's project replied:
"They have all been off the streets for a year and more and are now attending school, playing good football and living at the Homestead children's home in Khayelitsha."
"That is good," Mandela replied. "One thing you must realise is that in the present world you cannot take up a position of leadership without education. So you must work hard on your books and make sure you pass," he encouraged as he spoke to each boy in turn.
"What does Thandisizwe mean?" he asked one of the boys
"It means 'love my country'," Thandisizwe shyly replied.
"Oh that is good, that is accurate," Mandela smiled.
After spending some time with the boys he bid them farewell saying: "I am grateful to you for coming here and changing my life."
The boys broke into excited chatter after the man they'd all been waiting to meet was guided from the room.
"I feel so happy and excited," said Lerato. "I feel that my life is also going to change now that I have seen Mr Mandela. I am going to concentrate on my school work."
"My life was upside down when I was on the streets," commented Elvis. My message to other street children is that they mustn't give up."
"Those who chase their dreams, get their dreams," said Nelson who was named after Mandela and who is the captain of the Homestead Team. He is the only member who has flown before. This former street child is now the junior amateur South African Muay Thai champion (a form of kickboxing). He represented South Africa in Thailand in May this year where he won a bronze.
"I'm very proud of myself. I have forgotten about the streets and now I have met Mr Mandela," said Ayanda, the vice-captain of the side. "Mr Mandela was the one who was fighting for us, for our freedom and education. I thank him very much for this."
Note: The boys' surnames may not be mentioned because they are living in a place of safety and are protected under the Child Care Act.